Empower Your Nutrition By Reading Food Labels

Food companies go out of their way to repackage and market their processed food items as nutritious and ‘healthy’. These marketing strategies are rarely followed by improvements in the actual food quality. Therefore, we need to be diligent in knowing exactly what we are buying and putting into our bodies. Just by carefully reading and understanding food labels, you can empower your nutritional decisions. Here is simple list of food items we should avoid and replace as these common ingredients offer little to no health benefits and, in fact, may produce chronic health problems with regular consumption.

*Unhealthy Saturated Fats
Unsaturated fats come in many forms with some being more unhealthy than others. Unsaturated fats are any fats that are solid at room temperature. These fats typically have a negative effect on the body including the development of cardiovascular and circulatory conditions. The primary unsaturated fats to avoid/reduce are animal-based fats (meat and dairy) and ‘trans fats’ or hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated vegetable oils have been processed so they have a solid consistency at room temperature and are a cheap substitute for more naturally occurring saturated fats like butter. Be mindful in reading foods labels as manufacturers are aware that people are now avoiding ‘trans fats’ and now reword these hydrogenated fat ingredients to hide them in the food labels.

*Simple Sugars
Simple sugars have a strong negative effect on blood sugar and hormone levels. These sugars quickly pass through the digestive system and create a roller coaster effect on the body’s metabolic pathways. Simple sugars come a variety forms/names that should be avoided including: sugar, glucose, corn syrup, malt syrup, glucose-fructose, cane sugar. Just because it may say ‘organic’ doesn’t mean it is good for you. Simple sugar is simple sugar! Great alternatives to simple sugars that offer a better way of satisfying sweet toothes are honey, agave (syrup), stevia, maple syrup, rice syrup and date sugar.

*High Sodium Intake
The high consumption of sodium has shown to increase blood pressure which can place the cardiovascular system at risk. Almost all premade/processed foods contain unnecessarily high levels of sodium to improve the taste quality.  Our society has become very accustomed to sodium and most people have a difficult time enjoying food without this flavor ‘enhancer’. Monitor your sodium intake by avoiding processed and prepackaged foods. Cooking foods from scratch with fresh ingredients helps control your sodium intake and allows you to explore other more engaging means of making foods flavorful. Many prepared spice and herbal alternatives are also available to help you shed the use of salt in your diet.

*Artificial Sweetners
Food manufacturers have tried to appeal to the public’s interest in healthy alternatives by producing substitutes for sugar and other sweetners. Although these artificial sweetners reduce the consumption of simple carbohydrates, they appear to be presenting other long term health effects. Rather than waiting to see how these sweetners eventually act on society’s health, one should just make a point of eliminating these chemical additives from one’s diet. Look carefully for the following artificial sweetners in processed items: saccharin, aspartame, cyclamate.

Reading food labels is the first step to changing your dietary health. Know what ingredients mean and what they offer your body. Shift away from food items containing preservatives and other unwanted chemicals. Here is a list of additional items to watch for when reading labels:

  • In avoiding artificial additives, watch out for labeling like ‘flavor’ and ‘color’. Unless these items are specifically addressed as naturally occurring, move on to a better choice.
  • For those still consuming meat products, be particularly mindful of ‘nitrates’ in what is supposed to be smoked-meat products like ham and bacon. Look for naturally wood-smoked products only.
  • Added vitamins can often be mistaken for additives. Thiamin hydrochloride, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, d-calcium pantothenate, and zinc oxide are the scientific labels for common vitamins and minerals.
  • Be mindful of ‘amount per serving’ when reading sugar, calorie, sodium and other component proportions. Often, the serving sizes are truly unrealistic for the average individual. When reading the labels, start with the ‘amount per serving’ and roughly readjust to the true serving size you would consume. You may find that the daily value % of unwanted items like sodium and sugar intake then sky rocket.

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